Top critical review
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on 23 February 2004
Authors like Calvino (along with similar authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez) tend to produce extreme reactions in their readers - as evidenced by the reviews for this book, which range from one star to five.
This is predominantly due to the elusive nature of the text. Upon a swift first reading, "Invisible Cities", could be regarded as a pleasing collection of prose works on imaginary cities. It rapidly becomes clear however, that the book is larger in scope than this. Intended not merely as a descriptive work, but as a musing on the concept of city life and home (and belonging), the problems for reviewers begin primarily because parts of this book are very difficult to understand indeed.
Those that fail to notice (or understand) the deeper meanings of the book hold that it is an interesting if ultimately pointless exploration of the imagination (and give one star). Others who fail to understand the work assume that since Calvino is a widely respected author, he must know what he's talking about, and therefore opaqueness must be indicative of genius (and give five stars).
In actuality, the book is worthy of neither condemnation nor lavish praise. It contains some beautiful imaginary cities (sufficiently good for the book to be enjoyed simply on this basis alone) and some interesting concepts in relation to man's interaction not only with the people around him, but also his surroundings. However, some parts of the book seem overly pretentious (especially the latter conversations between Khan and Polo) and lack of clarity clouds Calvino's meaning to the point where it is impossible to tell if he is being very clever or wilfully unfathomable (to produce the former effect).
Overall, an enjoyable and thought-provoking book, evidencing both Calvino's evocative description and also his ability to confuse everyone around him! If you're new to Calvino, it's probably best to start with "If On A Winter's Night A Traveller", which is superior and easier to understand.